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Chateauneuf v. Colvin

United States District Court, Ninth Circuit

June 17, 2013

James Chateauneuf, Plaintiff,
Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


DAVID G. CAMPBELL, District Judge.

On April 26, 2013, James Chateauneuf ("Plaintiff" or "the claimant") filed an opening brief challenging the Commissioner's denial of his application for Social Security benefits. Doc. 14. The Commissioner filed a response on May 15, 2013. Doc. 15. Plaintiff has not filed a reply brief. For the reasons that follow the Court will deny Plaintiff's appeal of the Commissioner's determination.

I. Background.

Plaintiff filed an application for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income in July 2009, alleging a disability onset date of May 30, 2007. On December 20, 2011, Plaintiff amended his disability onset date to November 2, 2009. Tr. at 250. After his initial claims were denied a hearing was held before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") on January 9, 2012. On February 7, 2012, the ALJ issued a decision in which he concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Act prior to December 1, 2011, but became disabled on that date. The ALJ's decision became the Commissioner's final decision when Plaintiff's request for review was denied by the Social Security Administration Appeals Council.

II. Legal Standard.

Defendant's decision to deny benefits will be vacated "only if it is not supported by substantial evidence or is based on legal error." Robbins v. Soc. Sec. Admin., 466 F.3d 880, 882 (9th Cir. 2006). "Substantial evidence' means more than a mere scintilla, but less than a preponderance, i.e., such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Id. In determining whether the decision is supported by substantial evidence, the Court must consider the record as a whole, weighing both the evidence that supports the decision and the evidence that detracts from it. Reddick v. Charter, 157 F.3d 715, 720 (9th Cir. 1998). If there is sufficient evidence to support the Commissioner's determination, the Court cannot substitute its own determination. See Young v. Sullivan, 911 F.2d 180, 184 (9th Cir. 1990).

III. Analysis.

For purposes of Social Security benefits determinations, a disability is

the inability to do any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.

20 C.F.R. § 404.1505.

Determining whether a claimant is disabled involves a sequential five-step evaluation. The claimant must show (1) he is not currently engaged in substantial gainful employment, (2) he has a severe physical or mental impairment, and (3) the impairment meets or equals a listed impairment or (4) his residual functional capacity ("RFC") precludes him from performing his past work. If at any step the Commission determines that a claimant is or is not disabled, the analysis ends; otherwise it proceeds to the next step. If the claimant establishes his burden through step four, the Commissioner bears the burden at step five of showing that the claimant has the RFC to perform other work that exists in substantial numbers in the national economy. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i)-(v).

At step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful employment since the amended disability onset date of November 2, 2009. Tr. at 15. In satisfaction of step two, the ALJ found that the Plaintiff suffers from the following severe impairments: cervical and lumbar degenerative disc disease, neuropathy, hypertension, and thrombosis of the lower extremity. Tr. at 15. At step three, the ALJ considered the record evidence and concluded that the claimant does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or equals the severity of one of the impairments listed in the regulations. Tr. at 16. The ALJ then considered the relevant evidence and determined that before December 1, 2011, Plaintiff had the RFC to perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b). Tr. at 16. After December 1, 2011, the ALJ concluded, Plaintiff's conditioned had worsened and he had the RFC to perform only sedentary work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(a) and 416.967(a) with several additional limitations. At step five, the ALJ concluded that prior to December 1, 2011, Plaintiff had an RFC that would have permitted him to perform his past relevant work as a deli clerk, cashier, and dining room manager as actually performed, but Plaintiff's RFC prevented him from performing his past relevant work after December 1, 2011. Tr. at 20-21. Finally, the ALJ concluded that after December 1, 2011, there were no jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff could perform. Tr. at 21.

Plaintiff contends that the ALJ misinterpreted evidence and improperly discounted the opinion of a treating physician, and that he improperly discounted ...

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